Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Semin Making Most Of Second Chance

Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals leads the NHL in goals in the month of January (with one day remaining) with a total of 12 goals. This is significant for several reasons. The first is it gives Washington a legitimate second offensive threat to take some pressure off of Alexander Ovechkin. It is also significant because this is Semin's second chance in the NHL.

In 2003/04, he played 52 games scoring 22 points. After that he was the centrepiece of the first Russia/NHL player battle since there is no NHL/Russia IIHF player transfer agreement. During the lockout, Semin decided to play in Russia since he was locked out of the NHL. Washington was able to send him to the minors, so they assigned him to the AHL and he did not report since he was in Russia. This case was fought until Alexander Semin signed with the Capitals for 2006/07. This is his second trip to the NHL. Two years passed in between them.

There are other Russians who have failed in their first trip to the NHL this season. They include Alexei Kaigorodov, Enver Lisin and Alexei Mikhnov. All are seen by most fans as Russian whiners who were not good enough for the NHL (which is exactly the way Semin was seen when he was in Russia).

Semin did get a longer audition in his first NHL tour. Though this may be a sign that he is a better player, I think it is mostly a function of the CBA. The new CBA greatly reduces how long teams hold the rights of young players. At age 27, they can be lost as unrestricted free agents. This reduces the amount of time a team has the player they developed in their system. This also limits the amount of resources (such as NHL ice time) they are willing to sink into a player to develop him. All of the three Russian "failures" have credentials in Russia that compare to Semin. They may be able to succeed and become good NHL players if given a chance. However, given the state of NHL/Russian relations, CBA restrictions and the way they were treated on their first tour of North America it is quite likely some of them will never return to North America. It would be a shame if they could have been good NHL players, but these circumstances prevented the North American fans from seeing it happen.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Conspiracy Theory

An interesting article came out yesterday on Yahoo Sports. Dan Wetzel writes about his conspiracy theory about how Gary Bettman was hired by the NHL. He writes that Bettman may have had his name put forward by David Stern, the NBA commissioner, because Stern was scared of the NHL. The NHL was in a position to catapult past the NBA in popularity. Since the NHL and NBA share several stadiums, this is particularly troubling if the NHL gets all the prime dates. The NHL was looking for a commissioner to replace outgoing president Gil Stein. Stern suggested his assistant Gary Bettman. He figured that Bettman would not be up to the job and with him out the the NBA and running the NHL, it would reduce competition with the NHL.

Although I do not have any reason to believe that this actually occurred (I also cannot show that it didn't), it is an interesting theory. Gary Bettman has not done well as NHL commissioner. The league lost an entire season to a lockout and is having trouble attracting fans in many US markets. They are making changes that alienate the fans in existing markets in order to try to woo fans in the failing ones. They are stuck in the TV oblivion of Versus and have no major US network TV deal in sight. Bettman's reign has certainly led to the NHL becoming a largely irrelevant competitor to the NBA on a national American level. If Stern did this, it certainly has worked well for the NBA.

In order to have a believable conspiracy, there must be a means and a motive for it being carried out (in this case Stern's worries about the NHL competition and his ability as NBA commissioner to give a glowing reference for Bettman) and a means for the story to have been kept silent (its entirely possible that only Stern was "in" on this manoeuvre - which would make it easy to keep quiet). This is a believable conspiracy - but that definitely doesn't make it true. We may never be able to verify its truth or falsity.

What is most interesting about this story is that it is proof that members of the mainstream media are definitely not behind Gary Bettman. Dan Wetzel, who wrote it, is a longstanding Yahoo Sports writer who has authored several sports books (mostly basketball) . This is where open criticism of Gary Bettman's NHL in the mainstream media will start. Yahoo Sports is not closely tied to the NHL. If the NHL has problems, it doesn't affect them in any significant way. Dan Wetzel is a writer for several sports, most commonly basketball. He is not going to anger potential sources for future stories or affect his bottomline if the NHL has problems. This is unlike the hockey beat writer in your local paper or a TSN personality like Bob McKenzie. They need to be on good terms with the NHL to maintain their access and they depend on the NHL's success for their future prospects. However, once the meme that Gary Bettman is a problem that the NHL is better off without gets into the mainstream, it will be hard for it to die. Most likely it will lead to the downfall of Gary Bettman and a new direction for the NHL, if it gets that far. This might be foreshadowing some interesting changes in the NHL.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Versus Until 2011

The Comcast owned Versus television station has bought the rights to the NHL until 2011. They have exercized an option for the 2007/08 year and bought the rights to the next three seasons after than.

Versus is hockey oblivion in the United States. Some people do not get this channel. Others that do get it don't know that they do or what channel it is. It is certainly not as high profile as ESPN. But it was possibly the only option when ESPN didn't want it. ESPN still doesn't really want it when they can get ratings showing poker in its place (since when has poker been a sport?). ESPN might be willing to take it back as long as it can be used as cheap filler material, but they won't actually promote the NHL or anything. The American NHL TV rights post lockout went to OLN who was eventually rebranded to become Versus. It was a network that never seriously expected to win the TV rights in the first place, but when it did, they did an admirable job of eventually putting together a decent show.

The problem is its still a channel that many people don't notice. It hides hockey from the American fan. It leads to the many stupid articles we see about how hockey is dead. This is shown by the fact that All Star Game ratings dropped by 76% since 2004 and yet are a peak in the Versus ratings. The NHL is in hockey oblivion on American TV's and nobody cares if it comes back. They have little choice but to stay there and hope their location gets on the radar screens.

For the fan, does it matter? Not really. If you know where Versus is on your TV, then you know where to find games. Who cares how many other people are watching? Does it make your viewing more enjoyable to know that lots of people are watching the same thing in their homes? I don't see how. It would be nice if Versus showed more games. It would be nice to have Versus games on weekends, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards.

Here is an article about the new Versus deal courtesy of Kukla's Korner.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What Went Wrong With The Flyers?

One goal of the current NHL CBA is parity. It is very hard to keep a successful team together. The salary cap prevents you from giving the necessary raises to all your players and the liberalized free agency allows players to leave when they are in the primes of their careers. This makes it very hard for there to be any elite teams (probably there are none this year although Anaheim might be one). Bad teams are not supposed to be able to stay bad because of the extra players available as free agents and because they have a salary floor that forces them to buy them.

In practise, this is much more successful at keeping elite teams from being formed then it is from keeping bad teams from existence. Many teams will pay their players near the salary cap at the beginning of the season and then have essentially "locked in" their roster for the year. It is very hard to make changes when you cannot add any salary. If one of these "locked in" teams is a bad one it is hard to make changes.

Philadelphia finds themselves in this situation this year as a bad team. They were not expected to do poorly (I picked them to win the Atlantic Division); however, lots of things went wrong.

Peter Forsberg is known to be an injury risk, but he is also expected to be a dominant player for the part of the season. I don't think anyone expected that he would be limited to 8 goals at all star break. The Flyers have several young sophomore talents expected to play a bigger role including Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Antero Niittymaki, but none have. They have a couple aging slow defencemen in Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje, who were both expected to play reliable minutes anchoring the defence. I think nobody expected they would only have an assist each. Several forwards that were expected to provide depth like Kyle Calder and Petr Nedved have failed. It is a reasonable statement that nobody on the team has been able to exceed expectations this season (and at least a couple people due on any team just about any year). To make matters worse, the Flyers panicked early and fired Ken Hitchcock who is a very good coach and replaced him with John Stevens, who seems to be unable to get any success from this Flyer team.

What can the Flyers do? At this point, all they can do is sell off players and wait for next year.

This Flyers team has been bad. They have only managed to collect 26% of the points in the games that they have played (for comparison the first place team in Nashville has collected 68% of points in their games). Philadelphia is far worse than average than any team in the league above average. This CBA has the effect of getting rid of the really good teams, without getting rid of the really bad. That is the worst of both worlds. The fans do not get to see the best anymore, but they still get to see the worst. There is no way to legislate out stupidity and bad luck. There is no way to prevent bad teams, but good teams have been successfully limited.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

One Team Is Definitely Not Mediocre

The current NHL CBA is designed to create parity. It is very hard to be an elite team since it is hard to keep successful teams together.

In the previous CBA, there were elite teams, slightly above average teams, average teams, slightly below average teams and bad teams. This CBA is designed to break up the elite teams and to prevent any teams from being bad teams. For the most part, it has succeeded in keeping away elite teams (in fact none existed last season). How is it doing at preventing the truly bad teams?

One look at the NHL standings shows there is a team that has been awful this year in the Philadelphia Flyers. Philadelphia has only 27 points. They are 13 points behind 29th place Los Angeles. This season has been a total write-off for the Flyers. They are on pace for 47 points, which is the least point total since the overtime loss point. It is the least point total since the 1997/98 Tampa Bay Lightning had 44 points.

The CBA does not eliminate truly bad teams. Murphy's Law prevents that. Whatever can go wrong will and its going wrong in Philadelphia this year. We have a situation where elite is prevented but terrible isn't and that just makes things worse for the NHL fan.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Another Look At The West Conference Scoring Leaders

After nearly a week without any NHL-calibre games it is time to play hockey again. One of the biggest often unmentioned developments in the league is the discrepancy in talent between the East and West Conference. The West Conference has the better record Tom Benjamin addresses this. The West Conference has a winning record in head-to-head games. They have 56 wins and 37 losses (with 7 losses in overtime and shootout. This is clear evidence that the West Conference is superior this year.

This season, the East Conference is higher scoring. 6.2 goals per game are scored in East Conference and 5.7 in West Conference games. Thus the top scorers in the league come from the weaker East Conference. This is not surprising. Weaker leagues are always higher scoring. The AHL is always higher scoring than the NHL. The ECHL is always higher scoring still.

Why is the West Conference better? It's not clear how that happened, though here is my theory. The West Conference has always been disadvantaged in terms of travel. It is sprawled over four time zones in North America while the East Conference is all in some portion of the eastern time zone. The west teams lose time that could have been used for practice, rest etc. It is hard on the western teams. It has been shown to cost them points each season. Over time, the East Conference teams thought they were a bit better than they were and the West Conference teams thought they were a bit worse. This led to the west working to improve themselves while the east was complacent and didn't do the same. At any rate, the West Conference is currently the better one.

In the beginning of December, I listed the top ten scorers in the West Conference. Things have changed as time has passed. Chris Pronger, who was previously the second highest west scorer has fallen off the pace with his injury.

Here are the current top 10 scorers in the better West Conference

Top 10 Scorers In The West Conference (as of all star break)
Name Team Goals Assists Points Standing in League
Joe ThorntonSJ1347609
Teemu SelanneAna30295910
Jarome IginlaCal23305313
Paul KariyaNas16375315
Patrick MarleauSJ22305219
Joe SakicCol20325220
Daymond LangkowCal19315024
Alexander FrolovLA23244729
Andy McDonaldAna12354731
Steve SullivanNas15314633

There are 23 east players with as many or more points than the top 10 west players. It is easier to score in the east. Goals are more plentiful because the opposition is not as good.

I believe that these ten players are likely having better offensive seasons than the top 10 scorers in the east (a group that can be much more easily seen with a look at the NHL top scorers)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mikhnov Returns To Russia (No Suspension!)

Despite the lack of an NHL-Russia IIHF transfer agreement, a handful of Russian players signed with NHL teams this past summer. There was a defection and questionable legal tactics used to get the Russian players into the NHL. This has resulted in lawsuits between Russian teams and NHL teams. At issue is how much money the NHL should have to pay a Russian team that loses a player who is under contract to the Russian team if he jumps to North America. The NHL position is take the IIHF deal or we will take your players and leave you nothing in return. The Russian position is that the IIHF deal is not good enough and they want more money.

Of these players who left Russia and came to the NHL, the only success so far has been Evgeni Malkin who looks like the Calder trophy favorite. Alexei Kaigorodov was sent to the minors by Ottawa and returned to Russia instead and got suspended by the Sens (despite this being allowed by a clause in his contract). Enver Lisin was sent to the minors by Phoenix and returned to Russian instead and got suspended by the Coyotes (despite this being allowed by a clause in his contract). The latest player to return to Russia is Alexei Mikhnov of the Edmonton Oilers. He has only played two NHL games (and insignificant minutes) with the Oilers. Otherwise he has been stuck in the AHL.

What is interesting is Mikhnov is not suspended. He goes with the blessing of the Oilers. With Mikhnov's Russian team Yaroslavl threatening legal action, Mikhnov unhappy to be stuck in the minors (at a salary that is a paycut from what he could make in the Russian League), the Oilers are not exacerbating the situation. Mikhnov told the Oilers he planned to return to Russia next season (so they might as well let him go now). The Oilers decided they were unlikely to call him up. Yaroslavl agreed to call off any future legal action if they get their player back. So everyone is happy. An agreement was met.

This is probably the best way to solve the Russian/NHL standoff. Let individual teams negotiate individually with one another. People are more likely to go away happy then with the heavy-handed NHL approach of take or leave our bad offer and if you leave it we will take your players for free. Yes, it might cost the NHL a bit more to get their Russian talent, but it will better open the pipeline of skilled players in Russia which the NHL needs to remain the league where all the most talented players in the world compete against one another.

However, the case of Mikhnov (and some of the other Russian "failures" this season) shows other problems that will rear their heads. Except for the most elite Russians, most need a bit of seasoning in the North American game to be ready for the NHL. However, the $95,000 re-entry waiver limit means that players will take a paycut to come to the AHL and get their seasoning. That prevents them from doing so. That is a large part of the reason the Russians wanted to return to Russia when they didn't immediately crack NHL lineups. This re-entry waiver rule will keep more talented players in Europe.

In Mikhnov's case, there is another issue. He is already 24 years old. With the liberalized free agency in the new CBA, he will be an unrestricted free agent at age 27. If Mikhnov takes a couple years in the AHL to be NHL ready, why bother? The Oilers would be producing a player for somebody else. They would develop an NHLer and then he would leave to another team.

As an example, to show this is important, let's look at the case of Dominik Hasek. He was a Czech star who came over to North America at age 25. He shuffled between the AHL and Chicago for two seasons. If he faced salary restrictions that forced him to a paycut in the AHL at that time, he would likely have gone home instead. Chicago wound up getting nothing much for Hasek's development because they traded him to Buffalo for Stephane Beauregard and a 4th round draft pick. Would they have bothered developing him at all if they knew he was 2 years from UFA status before they started? I think that under the current CBA, the fans would likely have never had the chance to see Dominik Hasek the Hall of Fame goalie in the NHL. Are there other players who could be Dominik Hasek's out there? We will probably never know because they will not have the chance to develop into NHL players.

Here is the TSN story on Mikhnov.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Klatt et al Court Case Ruled Wrong Jurisdiction

A group of dissident NHL players led by Trent Klatt (and including Chris Chelios and Dwayne Roloson) are trying to sue the NHLPA. They claim that the way Ted Saskin replaced Bob Goodenow as NHLPA head during the 2004/05 lockout was against the NHLPA constitution. They are probably correct in these claims, as there was no formal vote by the union membership at this time.

The court case filed in Illinois has been thrown out claiming lack of jurisdiction. The courts claim the case would be better filed in Canada. This ruling will in no way stop Klatt and friends from continuing their legal challenge. Likely they will file in Canada and try to appeal this ruling in the US.

The American legal system is extremely slow. It took more than three and a half months to rule that the case had been filed in the wrong jurisdiction. I'm sure that the rest of the NHL season will be complete before we have any further legal ruling.

What are Klatt and his friends trying to accomplish? First they want acknowledgment that the way Ted Saskin was brought in and the lockout ended was handled illegally by the NHLPA. They want to keep this issue alive.

The NHLPA is a weak union. Most players are apathetic to its issues. Many young players are afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions from their team. When there is a serious problem in its history it can take years for it to come to conclusion (for example Alan Eagleson was guilty of several crimes against the players, but he remained NHLPA boss for a couple years after these details began to surface). They hope that eventually a groundswell of opposition against Ted Saskin will develop and it will lead to his ouster. Keeping this issue alive hopefully will plant the seeds of that movement.

This issue does not seem to go away and Ted Saskin deals with it by stalling and consolidating power in the NHLPA. Likely at some point, a challenger to Saskin will emerge that has the backing of Klatt, Chelios, Roloson etc. Then a battle will be fought. In the meantime with a weak, divided NHLPA, the NHL owners can push through anything they want without much challenge.

Here is the TSN article on the latest minor legal ruling.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Are There Any Elite Teams This Year?

The all star break is a natural time to try to put the season so far into historical perspective. One question I am asking is are there any elite teams this year? Elite teams are the kinds of teams that are historically great. They are filled with great players who play great together.

Last year, I made the controversial statement that there were no elite teams in the 2006 playoffs. Sure Carolina won the cup, but they are hardly an elite team. They won because somebody had to win and they were the lucky somebody. They won despite the weakest defence I have ever seen on a Stanley Cup winner. One year later (with a slightly different lineup) this team has allowed more goals than they have scored and looks to finish in the bottom half of the east playoff teams.

This lack of elite teams is not just a fluke. It is by design. The current CBA was brought in to create parity. No team is truly great in the league. That means we will no longer see playoff series that are epic battles between elite teams (you would need elite teams for that to occur). That is a real shame and it hurts the entertainment value that the fan has. Watching elite teams play elite playoff series was one of the appeals of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now it is extremely hard to build an elite team. It is almost impossible to keep a good (but not elite) team that has some success together.

This season, does anyone look like they could be an elite team? At the top of the standings we have the Nashville Predators. This is a solid deep team that plays very well together. However, they lack any elite players. Is there anyone on the roster who looks to be on a Hall of Fame track? Possibly Paul Kariya, but he has slowed down a lot since the 90's. It is quite possible he never makes the Hall of Fame, but he is their most likely player at this point. In the All Star Game, there will only be one Predator (Kimmo Timonen). Elite teams should have lots of all stars. Nashville is a good team. They could be the kind of team that wins the cup, but they are not an elite team. They would be one of the weaker cup winners.

How about the East Conference? Do they have elite teams? In general the East Conference is the weaker conference. Tom Benjamin addresses this. Right now, in inter-conference games the west has a 56-37 winning record (where seven losses were regulation ties).

That doesn't necessarily mean there cannot be an elite team in the east. Buffalo has been the class of the division. Are they elite? They got off to a fast start this year and I skeptically addressed how good they are. I do not think there is a single Sabre that is currently on a Hall of Fame track. They do have three players voted to start in the All Star Game, which is probably proof of Sabrefans ballot stuffing ability more than anything else. Does anyone really imagine that Ryan Miller is having a better season than Martin Brodeur or that Daniel Briere is having a better year than Marian Hossa or Martin St Louis? Yet those Sabres will start in the All Star Game. In the defence weak East Conference (the three best defenders in hockey Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer all play in the west) there were no clear starters. Brian Campbell may be as good a pick as Zdeno Chara or Tomas Kaberle, but none would have had serious consideration in the west (even without the Rory Fitzpatrick votes). Buffalo is another good team that plays well together, but they lack elite players and thus are not an elite team.

So is anyone an elite team this year? Maybe. There is one candidate. The Anaheim Ducks. They had a record breaking streak at the beginning of the year (thanks in part to redefining the statistics in the "new NHL"). They have two Hall of Fame defenders in Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. They have a forward in Teemu Selanne who is on a Hall of Fame track (if he keeps up this standard of play it likely won't be long until I call him a Hall of Famer). They have a goalie who has already won the Conn Smythe who was looking like a Vezina candidate before getting hurt in Jean-Sebatien Giguere (he might be on a Hall of Fame track but this is at best debateable). This team has some elite players. They also have weaknesses. They have been too dependant upon their big three defencemen (Pronger, Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin). They could use an extra big gun on offence. However, the potential is there. If things fall together properly, this could be an elite team. If things fall apart, as they have recently, this team is from from elite. Then again, who could be elite with two of your best three defenceman (Pronger and Beauchemin) hurt and your number one goalie (Giguere) also hurt and your other top defenceman (Niedermayer) playing hurt (his stress fracture in his foot will keep him out of the All Star Game).

In a league that has set rules to prevent the formation of elite teams (to the detriment of fans), there is one team that might emerge as an elite one. Anaheim has some of the pieces in place. If I had to gamble, I would say the road to being an elite team is a tough one and they will likely fail, but it is not impossible. There might be an eilte team this year.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

My All Star Game Injury Replacements

When I posted my picks for the NHL All Star Game, I picked players who were injured and would likely miss the actual game (unlike the actual NHL picks). I promised to replace the injured players at a later time closer to the actual game. Now is the time I will make my injury replacements (with a brief reason for the picks like I did for the discrepancies between my picks and those of the NHL).

East Conference

Martin Straka New York Bangers He will replace Jaromir Jagr who is missing the game to rehab his left shoulder (which he has surgery on this off season) and to rest his injured hip. He is the only Ranger on the roster and must be replaced by a Ranger. The NHL chose Brendan Shanahan, but Straka is playing better. He has more points and a better +/-. Shanahan is more famous and can serve as a captain in the All Star Game, but Straka is better. Captain of an all star team is not a particularly important role. It's not a game where the leadership of a player or players matter much. Perhaps the East Conference captain could be Zdeno Chara, since he is the Boston captain in the NHL.

Ray Whitney Carolina Hurricanes It hasn't been well reported in the media that Rod Brind'Amour is missing the game due to injury, but he was an obvious choice who got snubbed for Eric Staal and Justin Williams who are both clearly inferior picks. He hasn't played as well since returning from his "lower body" (likely groin) injury. I think it is clear Brind'Amour is passing up the All Star Game to rest himself. Since Brind'Amour is my only Carolina pick, I need to replace him with another Hurricane. Ray Whitney being the top scorer on the team is the most obvious choice.

West Conference

Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks Jarome Iginla will be out with a knee injury. He is not the only Flame on the roster. I also picked Miikka Kiprusoff. Thus, I am free to pick a player from any west team. Marleau is currently the third highest scorer in the west and I snubbed him, so I will add him to the roster. He is already on the actual NHL roster.

Chris Mason Nashville Predators Jean-Sebastien Giguere is out with a groin injury. He is a member of the heavily injured Anaheim Ducks (I have to replace him, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer), but there is still one Duck left on the roster in Teemu Selanne, so I can pick from any west team. Chris Mason has the best saves percentage in the NHL and has filled in admirably when Tomas Vokoun has been hurt in Nashville so I pick him. The NHL picked Marty Turco, largely because he is the hometown choice (the All Star Game is in Dallas this year).

Mathieu Schneider Detroit Red Wings He is replacing Chris Pronger who is out with a broken foot. Pronger is another injured Anaheim Duck, but since Selanne remains in the game, I can chose from any west team. My choice came down to Schneider and Dion Phaneuf. The NHL chose Phaneuf because he is the kind of young star they want to build the "new NHL" behind. Phaneuf is 21. Schneider is 37. They have similar stats, but Phaneuf is more protected in the minutes he plays. He is often kept from the best offensive players on the opposition as he is still learning some of his defensive game. Thus, I pick Schneider as he plays tougher minutes.

Kimmo Timonen Nashville Predators He is replacing Scott Niedermayer who has a stress fracture in his foot and will rest it. Niedermayer is yet another injured Duck, but since Selanne remains in the game, I can pick from any team in the west. He was selected to the game by the NHL and is the west leading Nashville Predators leader in ice time and also sports a solid 33 points from defence, so I pick him.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

MVP So Far This Year

Thus far this season, I have been picking Chris Pronger of the Anaheim Ducks as the MVP. However, he is currently injured. He has a broken foot that has kept him out all of January so far. Thus, it is time to pick a new healthy MVP.

The best candidate among the forwards is Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is the top scorer in the NHL, despite having missed a few games earlier this year. He is very talented, but it still refining some of the defensive aspects of his game.

The best candidate among defencemen is Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. I was earlier picking him as MVP in November until he was passed by Pronger. Lidstrom play a lot of minutes and leads the NHL with his +30 +/- rating. His offence, while good, is not league leading among defencemen.

The best candidate among goalies is Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. He plays almost every night and leads the NHL in most goalie stats (though he is currently second in saves percentage to Chris Mason of the Nashville Predators).

Any of these three guys should be considered serious MVP candidates, but I pick Lidstrom as my current MVP. He has been a consistent talent all season for Detroit. He controls the play most of the time he is on the ice. Detroit's defence would not be nearly as impressive without him.

Friday, January 19, 2007

L.A. Settles For Burke

The Los Angeles Kings goalie system is a mess. They began the year with Mathieu Garon and Dan Cloutier as their two goalies. Both are injured right now. Dan Cloutier's hip injury may keep him out for the rest of the season. Garon's finger injury will sideline him for a while as well. Los Angeles has a third NHL-ready goalie in the minors in Jason LaBarbera, but they cannot use him because he must clear re-entry waivers and there is a very good chance he would be claimed. Los Angeles has longterm plans for LaBarbera (who is a restricted free agent this summer) and does not want to let him go. As a result, the Kings have been forced to use minor leaguers Barry Brust and Yutaka Fukufuji as their goaltending tandem and it hasn't worked.

Brust sports an .878 saves percentage in his 11 games and a 3.70 GAA. He has won just twice so far. Fukufuji is even worse with an .844 saves percentage and 3.70 GAA in three games with no wins. Los Angeles needed to do something, but it is hard to make a move in the salary capped NHL. So they followed the model of Petr Nedved's trip to Edmonton. They could use the re-entry waivers that are keeping them from playing Jason LaBarbera to acquire a goalie that nobody else wanted.

Sean Burke is a goalie that nobody else wanted. He is almost 40 and has been sent to the minors by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is basically being warehoused there playing out the final days of his career (for his $1.6 million a year paycheque). Burke has had little motivation to stay on top of his game and has not done well. In seven games with Springfield of the AHL he has a .856 saves percentage and a 4.52 GAA. However, he has shown over the years that he is an NHL calibre goalie and now has the proper motivation to get himself back into game shape. Sean Burke is a castoff for Tampa who was being counted against their salary cap. Any player who signs a multi-year contract while older than 35 years old will count against the salary cap even if they are not in the NHL (except for longterm injury exemptions like Alexander Mogilny). Tampa is happy to get rid of Burke. Even though they still have to pay half his salary and have that count against their salary, as he was a re-entry waiver claim, they save about $350,000 from what they would have spent if they kept him.

Burke is an out of shape goalie who played himself out of the NHL already. He is likely an improvement over Brust and Fukufuji, but he is a bad NHL goalie at this stage of his career. Los Angeles has an AHL All Star goalie in Jason LaBarbera who has a .932 saves percentage and a 2.23 GAA in Manchester, but they cannot use him thanks to the crazy re-entry waiver rules. They are stuck pulling a 39 year old back from the AHL and the verge of retirement instead. It is true that Sean Burke might be the best alternative under the current rules, but the rules are crazy. To keep an AHL All Star in the minors so you can play one of the worst AHL goalies this season in the NHL makes no sense. The best players possible should be in the NHL and this re-entry waiver rule is keeping it from happening.

Here is TSN's story on the Kings claim of Sean Burke. Notice that Jason LaBarbera is not mentioned at all in the article. There is no need for the fact that there are better goalies kept out of the NHL due to bad rules being reported. It doesn't leave the NHL in a good light.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

New Vezina Leader

Possibly the hottest player in the past little while has been martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. He has only lost one time in his last eleven games, dating back into December. During that time, he has posted four shutouts and has never allowed more than three goals in a game. Because of that hot streak, Brodeur now leads NHL goalies in GAA, saves percentage, wins, saves and is tied for the games played lead with Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks. Given all of that, he is clearly the Vezina leader as best goalie so far this season, passing Cristobal Huet of the Montreal Canadiens. Brodeur is making a strong case for MVP, though I still support Chris Pronger of the Anaheim Ducks despite his injury. I think I will likely have to find a new MVP candidate and Brodeur, Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins are leading candidates.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Young Stars Game 2007

This is the season of All Star Games. I have already reported on rosters for the NHL All Star Game, AHL All Star Game and the CHL Top Prospects Game. Since I was asked by Red Five from the FunHL about the Young Stars Game rosters, I will report on them for completeness.

The Young Stars Game is played during the NHL All Star Game festivities in Dallas. The current definition of a Young Star (I think the NHL has changed it alightly over the years) is a player 24 or younger who is on an entry level contract who has not previously appeared in a Young Stars Game or the NHL All Star Game and is not scheduled to participate in this year's All Star Game. Due to the lockout, this means players who debuted in the NHL either last year or this one.

Here are the rosters:

East Conference

Patrick Eaves Forward Ottawa Senators
Mike Green Defenceman Washington Captials
Phil Kessel Forward Boston Bruins
Kari Lehtonen Goalie Atlanta Thrashers
Evgeni Malkin Forward Pittsburgh Penguins
Andrej Meszaros Defenceman Ottawa Senators
Zach Parise Forward New Jersey Devils
Jordan Staal Forward Pittsburgh Penguins
Alex Steen Forward Toronto Maple Leafs
Tomas Vanek Forward Buffalo Sabres
Ryan Whitney Defenceman Pittsburgh Penguins

West Conference

Peter Budaj Goaltender Colorado Avalanche
Matt Carle Defenceman San Jose Sharks
Ryan Getzlaf Forward Anaheim Ducks
Jussi Jokinen Forward Dallas Stars
Anze Kopitar Forward Los Angeles Kings
Alexander Radulov Forward Nashville Predators
Brent Seabrooke Defenceman Chicago Blackhawks
Ladislav Smid Defenceman Edmonton Oilers
Lee Stempniak Forward St Louis Blues
Shea Weber Defenceman Nashville Predators
Wojtek Wolski Forward Colorado Avalanche

The interesting point is that the east has 7 forwards and 3 defencemen, while the west has 6 forwards and 4 defencemen, so I guess there is no standardized organization of rosters specifying exactly the numbers of forwards and defencemen just as long as there are 11 players in total. I imagined at first glance, this was a bit of "fudging" done because there was no fourth defenceman in the East Conference of any note. That is untrue, they could have just as easily added somebody like Paul Ranger of the Tampa Bay Lightning (my first pick was Ian White of the Toronto Maple Leafs but he's injured) as the fourth East Conference defenceman (or if the "fudging" was in the other direction Paul Stastny of Colorado could be the west's seventh forward), should that have been the desire.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Petr Nedved And The CBA

When I wrote about goalies and re-entry waivers, David Johnson comments that Petr Nedved had been helped by re-entry waivers and it is the only reason he is playing in the NHL. I disagree with this analysis.

Petr Nedved is a 34 year old on the downside of his career. He found himself playing on the surprisingly bad Philadelphia Flyers (a team I picked to win the Atlantic Division). When a team plays surprisingly poorly, it is quite common for them to want to get rid of aging players and let their younger guys play. The problem is that this CBA makes it hard to do this.

With a salary cap, when you make a trade, you are not only trading players you are also trading their contracts. That limits the amount of teams that can trade for Nedved. If a team does not have the salary cap room to take over his contract, they cannot trade for him. This creates a new class of unwanted player that never existed in the past. The group of overpaid talents who are NHL capable but may not be worth their contract. Such players can pop up for several reasons. In New Jersey there are salary cap problems that have pushed Alexander Mogilny, Vladimir Malakhov, Dan McGillis and Richard Matvichuk out of the NHL. Other players of value, such as Jason Allison, Brian Leetch and Oleg Kvasha find themselves without suitors for the season and are left on the sideline. These players can have value. One can see this with a look at Yanic Perreault, who will be in the All Star Game (though it is a poor choice). He was unsigned at the beginning of this season, despite coming off a career best 57 point season. Much of Nedved's problem finding an NHL suitor was the CBA.

In the last CBA, Philadelphia would have gratefully traded Nedved to another team and assumed part of his contract. They would have got little back in return, but it would clear a roster spot for a younger player. That is not allowed in this CBA. That is why Nedved had to wait around in the AHL for a while until a team took him.

While it is true that re-entry waivers was a mechanism where a team could take Nedved for less than his full contract, it is a much more complex mechanism then the trade we would have seen in the past. As we saw, several teams were willing to add Nedved to their roster. Edmonton wound up claiming him. Though he likely won't be a superstar in Edmonton, he will be a contributor.

The CBA created most of the problems for Petr Nedved this season. While it is true that re-entry waivers was the mechanism that put him back into the NHL, it was a more complex mechanism that likely took longer than the trade that would have otherwise occurred. If Petr Nedved remaining in the NHL (when he would have done so under the old CBA) is the most positive contribution of re-entry waivers, then they are a failure. Keeping Jason LaBarbera out of the NHL is a significant loss. Putting Nedved back in (when he would have been in anyway under old rules) is not much gain.

Monday, January 15, 2007

All Star Pick Discrepancies: Me and the NHL

This past week, I announced who I would pick for the NHL All Star Game and the NHL announced who actually made the teams. The biggest source of discrepancy between our picks is that the NHL shied away from selecting anyone who has injury issues and will likely miss the All Star Game and I selected them and have plans to replace them closer to the game. The other discrepancies tended to occur when the NHL selected players that are famous and they would like to believe are All Stars in place of less famous players who are having better seasons. In total there were twelve discrepancies between our teams. Eight in the West Conference and four in the East Conference. This is largely because the West currently as more injuries.

Here are the players I would have selected to the All Star Teams who did not get selected:

East Conference

Maxim Afinogenov Afinogenov is the 20th highest scorer in the league with 47 points despite having missed some time to injury. He is having a breakout season. However, he plays for Buffalo which is a relatively small market and he doesn't have the same level of fame as some other players. Buffalo elected three players to the starting lineup in the game so there was no need to add a fourth Sabre even if he deserved it.

Rod Brind'Amour Brind'Amour is tied for Carolina's lead in scoring and is the Selke Trophy favorite as best defensive forward in the NHL. He is the obvious Carolina choice. He missed time in December with a "lower body injury" which many believe is a groin problem. He hasn't scored at the same rate since returning and many believe he is not 100%. Brind'Amour will rest his injuries instead of playing in the All Star Game.

Jaromir Jagr Jagr is a no brainer selection. His 59 points currently put him sixth in the NHL. However, Jagr is struggling with a shoulder injury and a sore hip and the Rangers would rather he rest it over the All Star break then to play in the game.

Bryan McCabe McCabe is having a good season. He has 34 points and a +5 +/- rating. He is the second Toronto defenceman I selected to go with Tomas Kaberle. McCabe is a solid defenceman who made second all star in 2004 and was on pace to win the the Norris Trophy after a strong first half last season. However, it appears that Toronto is not an elite team. They would miss playoffs if the season ended right now. So there is no need to give them multiple players in the All Star Game. Toronto is already a strong NHL market, might as well give a slightly weaker market multiple players.

West Conference

Alexander Frolov His 45 points places him sixth in the West Conference. However, he plays on a poor team in Los Angeles, who has two worthy all stars (he and Lubomir Visnovsky). Visnovsky is more famous so Frolov doesn't get to play.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere Giguere is having a very good season with a 2.17 GAA, .924 saves percentage and 23 wins in 34 games played. However, he is out with a groin injury and won't be available to play in the all Star Game.

Jarome Iginla Iginla is second in scoring in the West Conference but has a knee injury and won't be available for the All Star Game so he was not selected despite clearly deserving a nomination.

Ed Jovanovski Nobody from Phoenix really deserves to be in the All Star Game. However, I chose Jovanovski because he is their top scoring and best defenceman. He is tied for fifth in team scoring with 25 points and has a +3 +/- rating despite being stuck on Phoenix.

Paul Kariya Kariya is tied for 18th in the NHL in scoring with 48 points (fourth in the West Conference). He plays for the smaller market Nashville and they chose to go with Timonen instead of him. This is a reasonable move. Either are worthy of play in the All Star Game. I considered adding both, but due to numbers selected Kariya only. The NHL chose Timonen only. Nashville isn't an important enough market to have two representatives unless both are more obviously all stars. However, given Kariya's All Star history, he might have been the more high profile selection.

Chris Pronger I pick Pronger as the NHL MVP so far. Likely, he will lose that distinction as he stays out with a broken foot. This broken foot will keep him out of the All Star Game

Petr Sykora Sykora leads the Oilers in scoring with 38 points. He is having a very good season. He is not a recognizable as an Oiler as Ryan Smyth, who has been a longtime Oiler and has represented Canada in several international events. Smyth has missed time this season due to a broken thumb and this makes Smyth a less worthy, but higher profile selection.

David Vyborny Nobody from Columbus really deserves to be in the All Star Game. Vyborny's 38 points lead the team in scoring. Rick Nash got the position instead despite having only 30 points. Nash is a former first pick overall in the NHL draft and tied for the goal scoring lead in the league in 2004, so he is the bigger star despite having a worse season than Vyborny.

Here are the players selected by the NHL instead of my selections:

East Conference

Brian Rafalski New Jersey leads the Atlantic Division. Thus they will get two players in the All Star Game. They are a market that is more questionable than Toronto, in that they need more enticement to make sure they watch the game. His numbers do not measure up to McCabe, but he is having a solid year with 29 points so far.

Brendan Shanahan If Jagr cannot go, Shanahan is the logical New York Ranger selection. He is the most high profile of their other top scorers, though stands fourth on the Rangers in scoring.

Eric Staal Staal had a breakthrough season last year. He is having trouble following it up. He only has 39 points so far this year, but he is a young star who was given a lot of attention when he lead the 200 playoffs in scoring. Carolina is the defending Stanley Cup champions and they get two players in the All Star Game even if they do not deserve it.

Justin Williams If Brind'Amour isn't going to go in Carolina, Williams is an interesting choice. He is third in team scoring with 42 points. He is well behind Ray Whitney who would be a better choice. However, Williams is much younger and has potential to be a star for longer than Whitney, so in the interest of the "new NHL" full of young stars he gets the shot.

West Conference

Patrick Marleau I left him out mostly due to numbers. There were not enough roster spots for him and San Jose already had two representatives voted in a starters. His 46 points place him fifth in the West Conference. Likely, I will add him in an injury spot to my roster. Since the NHL did not add injured players, he makes the team immediately.

Rick Nash He is pushed as a young star and the face of the Columbus Blue Jackets and gets his spot despite being in a relatively poor season and not nearly as high a scoring one as teammate David Vyborny.

Yanic Perreault Nobody on Phoenix deserves to be there, but he has been playing well lately. I guess there is a feel good story about the 35 year old who didn't even have a team to play with at the beginning of the year being an all star, but since he missed time at the beginning of the year, he is tied for third in scoring on his team and hasn't had as big a contribution this season as Jovanovski.

Dion Phaneuf Calgary leads the Northwest Division so they get two players. Since Iginla is hurt he doesn't count as one. Phaneuf is a runner up for the Calder Trophy so he fits as a young star in the "new NHL" despite the fact he is not yet reliable enough in his own zone to take on the best offensive players in the opposition and is often protected from having to face them.

Ryan Smyth Captain Canada and the most identifiable Oiler, but with the ten games he lost to injury, I think Sykora (and Stoll) have had a bigger impact this year.

Kimmo Timonen A justifiable choice for Nashville, though I think Kariya is a better pick. I might add him as an injury selection on defence.

Marty Turco The game is in Dallas, so Dallas gets at least two players. Turco is not the best choice to replace the injured Giguere, but he is the home choice.

Henrik Zetterberg Detroit is an extremely strong hockey market historically, but they are starting to have a drop in attendance in the post Yzerman/Shanahan years. Zetterberg is a good young star who projects the image of "new NHL". His 36 points cannot measure up to Frolov, but he might be able to bring in more marginal viewers.

I think the risk with some of the young selections who are not worth their spot (people like Nash, Phaneuf, Zetterberg) is that if they do not improve to all star calibre in future seasons, it will make them look like more of a failure than they are because they have even more credentials in this all star berth to live up to. Probably, it won't matter, but you never know when one of these guys might fail and turn into a Jimmy Carson type who looked like a superstar but never matured.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

NHL All Star Rosters Revealed

Last night, the NHL revealed the risters for the 2007 NHL All Star Game. I have already announced who I would have picked. I have the roster format correct in my predictions. 21 player, 3 goalies, 6 defenceman and 12 forwards per conference with at least one player per team. This is better than the ESPN predictions where none of the three held to this format. It appears that the NHL did not pick players who would be worthy of an All Star Game appearance but have questionable availability due to injury. Thus players like JS Guguere, Chris Pronger and Jarome Iginla were not selected by the NHL. That is the biggest source of discrepancy on the two lists. At a point in the future, I will address the discrepancies between our lists and explain why I chose the players that I chose and not the ones that the NHL selected. Here are the All Star rosters:

East Conference

Jason Blake Forward New York Islanders
Jay Bouwmeester Defenceman Florida Panthers
Daniel Briere Forward Buffalo Sabres Starter
Martin Brodeur Goaltender New Jersey Devils
Brian Campbell Defenceman Buffalo Sabres Starter
Zdeno Chara Defenceman Boston Bruins
Dany Heatley Forward Ottawa Senators
Marian Hossa Forward Atlanta Thrashers
Cristobal Huet Goaltender Montreal Canadiens
Tomas Kaberle Defenceman Toronto Maple Leafs
Vincent LeCavalier Forward Tampa Bay Lightning
Ryan Miller Goaltender Buffalo Sabres Starter
Alexander Ovechkin Forward Washington Capitals Starter
Brian Rafalski Defenceman New Jersey Devils
Martin St Louis Forward Tampa Bay Lightning
Brendan Shanahan Forward New York Rangers
Sheldon Souray Defenceman Montreal Canadiens Starter
Eric Staal Forward Carolina Hurricanes
Justin Williams Forward Carolina Hurricanes

West Conference

Philippe Boucher Defenceman Dallas Stars
Jonathan Cheechoo Forward San Jose Sharks Starter
Bill Guerin Forward St Louis Blues
Martin Havlat Forward Chicago Blackhawks
Miikka Kiprusoff Goaltender Calgary Flames
Nicklas Lidstrom Defenceman Detroit Red Wings Starter
Roberto Luongo Goaltender Vancouver Canucks Starter
Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks
Rick Nash Columbus Blue Jackets
Scott Niedermayer Defenceman Anaheim Ducks Starter
Yanic Perreault Phoenix Coyotes
Dion Phaneuf Defenceman Calgary Flames
Brian Rolston Forward Minnesota Wild
Joe Sakic Forward Colorado Avalanche Starter
Teemu Selanne Forward Anaheim Ducks
Ryan Smyth Forward Edmonton Oilers
Joe Thornton Forward San Jose Sharks Starter
Kimmo Timonen Defenceman Nashville Predators
Marty Turco Goaltender Dallas Stars
Lubomir Visnovsky Defenceman Los Angeles Kings
Henrik Zetterberg Forward Detroit Red Wings

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Rory Fitzpatrick Affair

One of the biggest stories so far this season has been that of Rory Fitzpatrick. The Vancouver Canucks defenceman was the center of a popular write-in campaign to have him voted a starter in the NHL All Star Game. Officially, he has fallen short on votes.

To date, I have reserved comment on the situation. I did not vote for Rory. I did not vote at all for any All Stars. Thats part of my rejection of this meaningless and usually not very exciting game. I enjoy the process of selecting all stars on merit. I understand that when you let fans vote, there is no guarantee that their choices will be the best players in the NHL and that is fine. Thats an accepted part of fan voting. I found the fact that the question was asked frequently - if Rory Fitzpatrick is voted a starter should he actually play in the game - insulting. Of course he should play. He was voted there just like anyone else who was voted there.

The all internet fan voting system allowed a few dedicated people to have great influence in the results. This is a flaw in the system, but one that could be fixed.

When the voting began, there was a movement to get an improbable player into the game. Rory Fitzpatrick was chosen as this player. A website sprung up. For an NHL that has claimed an interest in viral marketing to keep themselves in the news, this was the viral marketing they wanted. I believe that some of the people running the marketing and viral marketing in the NHL may have fanned the flames a bit. Make the story bigger. It was a winner and they saw that. Conspiracy theorists even argue that the NHL may have come up with this campaign. The success of this campaign at gathering media attention can easily be seen by looking at deadspin hockey. Deadspin covers stories from a wide variety of sports. Four of their last five hockey stories (dating back to late November) are all on Rory Fitzpatrick. This is a greatly successful viral marketing campaign. One that is much higher profile than some others.

Like any large organization. In the NHL, the left hand doesn't always know what the right hand is doing. There were NHL employees who were never really onboard with the "vote for Rory" campaign. They could put a happy face on when they talked about it, as long as Rory Fitzpatrick was not actually voted into the All Star Game. But this campaign was big. It definitely looked like Rory would get into the game. After four weeks of voting, Rory Fitzpatrick was looking quite likely to be voted into the game. He was in second place among defencemen. Then something happened. Something that doesn't seem legit.

Tyler Dellow at Mutcrutch hockey outlines the case that something fishy occurred. In the final two weeks of voting, Rory Fitzpatrick votes suddenly dropped off by around 100,000 votes per week. The ratio of west conference defenceman votes to west conference forward and goalie votes shows an abnormally high number of "missing" votes. Since the NHL only published the vote leaders, we cannot know exactly how many votes were cast, but we do know the leaders totals, so we approximately know the votes cast. Suddenly, in week five the number of votes for West Conference defenceman dropped relative to those of forwards or goalies. Where did the missing votes go?

The explanation that sets the NHL in the best light is that they realized that some people were using "bots" to vote, automated programs to cast ballots for Rory Fitzpatrick. So they chose to discard the Rory votes while keeping the votes for the other people on the bot ballot. The most heinous explanation is that the NHL rigged the vote. Rory was getting too many votes and they didn't actually want him in the All Star Game.

Books have been written about corruption in US Presidential elections that was less clear than this. It is quite convincing that something happened to the voting process to keep Rory Fitzpatrick out of the All Star Game. The viral marketing campaign got too big and the people in charge of the NHL didn't like it so had to be defused. Rory was allowed to almost make the All Star Game, but he couldn't actually make it, even if vote totals had to be modified a bit.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Goalies And Re-Entry Waivers

One of the damaging clauses in the new CBA is that of re-entry waivers. It is seen by the NHL as a necessary part of enforcing an unnecessary salary cap. If a player in the minors is making more than $95,000, he must clear waivers to be brought up to the NHL. Nearly any player believed to be NHL calibre will be making more than this amount (as NHL calibre players rarely sign two-way contracts). It ties teams hands, since a player often signs a multi-year contract and that contract determines whether or not he must clear re-entry waivers should he ever get sent to the minors. Thus teams make roster decisions that otherwise make no sense. They send a player who is performing better than another who is on their roster to the minors because the player they are sending down can be brought up later without re-entry waivers. Otherwise, they find themselves with a player they would like to have in the NHL stuck in their minor system and unable to be recalled because he will definitely be lost.

This problem mostly affects players believed to be on the fringe. Third goalies, seventh or eighth defencemen and 13th or beyond forwards. When a player who may make an NHL impact is shipped to the minors, it is most often a goaltender. This is a result of the numbers. Its far more likely for the goalie currently perceived as 3rd best to make an NHL impact than a defenceman who is 7th best or a forward who is 13th best - since it requires only two players ahead of him (instead of 6 or 12).

The team that is most suffering because they have an NHL calibre goalie in the minors that they cannot recall is the Los Angeles Kings. I have earlier written about the Kings two goalie system that began the season. They had Mathieu Garon who was playing a solid game and Dan Cloutier who was playing quite poorly sharing their goalie duties. At the time, it made no sense, why not give the number one job to Garon - at least until Cloutier turns his game around. It turns out that injuries have accomplished this. Dan Cloutier has been out with a hip injury since the end of December. Thus Garon has won the starting job. The Kings have a talented ready backup goalie in Jason LaBarbera waiting in the minors. He was the 2004 AHL MVP. Last season he played 29 NHL games with some success for the Kings. This season he is playing so well that he was chosen to start in the AHL All Star Game. The problem is he would have to clear re-entry waivers and there is little reason to believe he would succeed. The Kings still hope to have LaBarbera in the future, so they do not want to give him away.

When one looks at the waiver wire this season, it is clear that goalies of lesser pedigree than LaBarbera are in demand. Michael Leighton has been claimed on waivers twice. He began the year as Anaheim property and was claimed on waivers by Nashville and yesterday was claimed again by Philadelphia. If Leighton is in demand on the waiver wire, LaBarbera has no hope of clearing waivers.

As a result, Los Angeles has been forced to use Barry Brust as their backup. Though he has performed acceptably so far, it is hard to imagine that LaBarbera's AHL backup is a better selection to play in the NHL than LaBarbera himself. During the period that Garon and Cloutier were hurt simultaneously, Los Angeles even brought up Yutaka Fukufuji (a man who has spent most of his North American career to date in the ECHL). Though he did not wind up playing any NHL games, it is clear that he is a far inferior selection to LaBarbera as an NHL goalie.

I am opposed to anything that keeps the best players available from playing in the NHL. The re-entry waiver rule is clearly doing this. It is making its largest impact on goaltending at the NHL level. It is keeping solid goalies in the minors and forcing teams to recall lesser goalies. This is one preventable way that the NHL is reducing its own talent base. It has other indirect effects where players who would otherwise be NHL calibre chose to play in Europe instead of accepting two-way contracts. This rule reduces NHL talent. As a result it should go.

NOTE: Mathieu Garon is on the injured reserve again. He hurt his finger in the game against San Jose. Fukufuji is back up in the NHL as a backup and Jason LaBarbera, the far superior goalie, is stuck in the AHL. Here ia the TSN story - notice it does not even mention LaBarbera.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

AHL All Star Rosters

It is all star time in many hockey leagues. I have recently written about the my choices to fill out the NHL All Star rosters and the CHL Top Prospects rosters. There is another major All Star Game in North America. The AHL All Star Game. It will be played in Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum on Monday January 29th. The game is played between a team of players born in Canada (Team Canada) and a team of players born elsewhere in the world (Planet USA). Here are the rosters:

Team Canada
Nolan Baumgartner Defenceman Philadelphia
Dustin Boyd Forward Omaha
Sheldon Brookbank Defenceman Milwaukee
Troy Brouwer Forward Norfolk
Mathieu Darche Forward Worcester
Wade Dubielewicz Goaltender Bridgeport
Jonathan Filewich Forward Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Daniel Girardi Defenceman Hartford Starter
Alexandre Giroux Forward Hershey Starter
Darren Haydar Forward Chicago Starter
Mike Keane Forward Manitoba Captain
T.J. Kemp Defenceman Manchester
Zenon Konopka Forward Portland Starter
Jason Krog Forward Chicago
Jason LaBarbera Goaltender Manchester Starter
Clarke MacArthur Forward Rochester
Curtis McElhinney Goaltender Omaha
Derek Meech Defenceman Grand Rapids
Brad Moran Forward Manitoba
Curtis Murphy Defenceman Houston
Kris Newbury Forward Toronto
Lawrence Nycholat Defenceman Hershey Starter
Mathieu Roy Defencman Hamilton
Martin St. Pierre Forward Norfolk

Planet USA
Keith Aucoin Forward Albany
Brandon Bochenski Forward Norfolk Starter
Dustin Byfuglien Defenceman Norfolk
Ryan Callahan Forward Hartford
Tomas Fleischmann Forward Hershey
Andy Greene Defenceman Lowell
Jaroslav Halak Goaltender Hamilton Starter
Peter Harrold Defenceman Manchester
Josh Hennessy Forward Binghamton
Ville Koistinen Defenceman Milwaukee
Andrei Kostitsyn Forward Hamilton
Matt Lashoff Defenceman Providence
Joel Lundqvist Forward Iowa
Kip Miller Forward Grand Rapids Captain
Filip Novak Defenceman Syracuse
Patrick O'Sullivan Forward Manchester
Karri Ramo Goaltender Springfield
Richie Regehr Defenceman Omaha Starter
Marek Schwarz Goaltender Peoria
Drew Stafford Forward Rochester
Brett Sterling Forward Chicago Starter
Bill Thomas Forward San Antonio Starter
Noah Welch Defenceman Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Starter
Erik Westrum Forward Toronto Starter

Many of these players should go on to have significant NHL careers.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My All Star Game Rosters

The voting for All Star Game starters is over and we have our winners (see this TSN article for details) so it is time for me to announce my picks for who I would add to fill out the all star rosters. The teams are assumed to have 12 forwards, 6 defencemen, 3 goalies. Each team must be represented with at least one player. I chose with no regard to injury status. Some of these players will likely be unable to play in the game due to injury. Those who are hurt I will replace at a later date closer to the game.

Here are my suggested rosters:

East Conference

Maxim Afinogenov Forward Buffalo Sabres
Jason Blake Forward New York Islanders
Jay Bouwmeester Defenceman Florida Panthers
Daniel Briere Forward Buffalo Sabres Starter
Rod Brind'Amour Forward Carolina Hurricanes
Martin Brodeur Goaltender New Jersey Devils
Brian Campbell Defenceman Buffalo Sabres Starter
Zdeno Chara Defenceman Boston Bruins
Dany Heatley Forward Ottawa Senators
Marian Hossa Forward Atlanta Thrashers
Cristobal Huet Goaltender Montreal Canadiens
Jaromir Jagr Forward New York Rangers
Tomas Kaberle Defenceman Toronto Maple Leafs
Vincent LeCavalier Forward Tampa Bay Lightning
Bryan McCabe Defenceman Toronto Maple Leafs
Ryan Miller Goaltender Buffalo Sabres Starter
Alexander Ovechkin Forward Washington Capitals Starter
Martin St Louis Forward Tampa Bay Lightning
Sheldon Souray Defenceman Montreal Canadiens Starter

West Conference

Philippe Boucher Defenceman Dallas Stars
Jonathan Cheechoo Forward San Jose Sharks Starter
Alexander Frolov Forward Los Angeles Kings
Jean-Sebastien Giguere Goaltender Anaheim Ducks
Bill Guerin Forward St Louis Blues
Martin Havlat Forward Chicago Blackhawks
Jarome Iginla Forward Calgary Flames
Ed Jovanovski Defenceman Phoenix Coyotes
Paul Kariya Forward Nashville Predators
Miikka Kiprusoff Goaltender Calgary Flames
Nicklas Lidstrom Defenceman Detroit Red Wings Starter
Roberto Luongo Goaltender Vancouver Canucks Starter
Scott Niedermayer Defenceman Anaheim Ducks Starter
Chris Pronger Anaheim Ducks
Brian Rolston Forward Minnesota Wild
Joe Sakic Forward Colorado Avalanche Starter
Teemu Selanne Forward Anaheim Ducks
Petr Sykora Forward Edmonton Oilers
Joe Thornton Forward San Jose Sharks Starter
Lubomir Visnovsky Defenceman Los Angeles Kings
David Vyborny Forward Columbus Blue Jackets

I am not the only one proposing All Star Game rosters. Scott Burnside, E J Hrdek and John Buccigross all proposed their lineups at ESPN. Interestingly, they disagree on roster size. Buccigross has the smaller lineup with 21 spots that I propose. Hradek and Burnside have 23 man rosters. In the last NHL All Star Game (2004) the 21 man roster was used. They don't include a player from each NHL team - for example, not one of the three includes a St Louis Blue.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lady Byng Leader

I like to keep track of the person who is leading in the race for the major NHL awards as the season progresses. A while ago, I picked Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks as the Lady byng leader. That pick requires some revision. While Marleau is still playing well, there is a player who has passed him in the scoring race who has even less penalty minutes than Marleau. He is Martin St Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning. St Louis is tied for the NHL goal lead with 26 and is currently fourth in the point race with 54 points. He leads all forwards in the NHL in playing time because he is valuable to Tampa in power play, shorthanded and even strength situations. He has done all this with only 12 penalty minutes. This is a lesser penalty minute total then any other player currently in the top forty scorers in the league. Martin St Louis is having a very good season and is very worthy of the Lady Byng right now.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Worst NHL Regular This Season

When trying to track the regular NHL player who is playing the worst throughout the season there is a predictable pattern. At the beginning of the year, the worst player is a "name" guy who is playing awful. This is because a "no-name" playing awful would be quickly sent to the minors. These "name" players sometimes play themselves out of jobs if they keep up their poor play, but they get a few extra chances because they have accomplished something in the NHL in the past. After a sufficient number of games, it usually becomes evident that the worst player getting dressed regularly is more of a "no-name" player who is thrown into a league above his talent level. He is usually a hard working "energy" guy who is kept in the lineup because of his effort, despite the fact that he isn't good enoughj to help his team. An example of such a player from last year is Steven Goertzen of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This season, we started off with name players as the worst NHLer. First I picked Petr Nedved who has been repeatedly waived by Philadelphia before getting claimed by Edmonton. Edmonton could be Nedved's last stop in his career unless he is a success there. Then I picked Derian Hatcher also from the Flyers. While Hatcher has not been good this year, he has not played as poorly as hed did at the start of the year. I think he could still be a solid number 4 or 5 defenceman on most teams in the NHL, but Philadelphia lacks the depth to do so and must play him in a role he is no longer suitable to play.

We are far enough into the season that a lesser name player has had time to show himself as the worst player in the NHL this season, while managing to keep from getting sent to the minors. That player is Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers. He is a fourth line checking forward who works hard and plays an "energy" role. He tries very hard but usually looks like the talent he is playing against is too good for him. He has played in all 43 of the Rangers games so far this year scoring no points and putting up a -9 +/- rating. Hollweg is a second year NHLer. Last year he had a bit more offensive success. He netter 5 points in his 52 games (which are still lacklustre numbers). I think its time that the Rangers tried giving his 8 minutes a night to somebody else. Hollweg isn't helping them at all.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

CHL Top Prospects Game

The CHL Top Prospects Game is an exhibition played by 40 of the best players who will be eligible in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. It will be played on January 17th in Quebec City. The forty participating players have been announced. Here they are:

Akim Aliu Sudbury Wolves
Ruslan Bashkirov Quebec Remparts
Drayson Bowman Spokane Chiefs
Logan Couture Ottawa 67's
Angelo Esposito Quebec Remparts
Olivier Fortier Rimouski Oceanic
Sam Gagner London Knights
Colton Gillies Saskatoon Blades
Max Gratchev Rimouski Oceanic
Zach Hamill Everett Silvertips
Patrick Kane London Knights
Spencer Machacek Vancouver Giants
Brett MacLean Oshawa Generals
Logan MacMillan Halifax Mooseheads
Oscar Moller Chilliwack Bruins
Nick Palmieri Erie Otters
Michal Repik Vancouver Giants
David Skokan Rimouski Oceanic
Brett Sonne Calgary Hitmen
Brandon Sutter Red Deer Rebels
Maxime Tanguay Rimouski Oceanic
Zack Torquato Erie Otters
Keven Veilleux Victoriaville Tigres
Jakub Voracek Halifax Mooseheads

Karl Alzner Calgary Hitmen
Jonathan Blum Vancouver Giants
Eric Doyle Everett Silvertips
Keaton Ellerby Kamloops Blazers
Taylor Ellington Everett Silvertips
Thomas Hickey Seattle Thunderbirds
Mark Katic Sarnia Sting
Kevin Marshall Lewiston MAINEiacs
John Negrin Kootenay Ice
Alex Plante Calgary Hitmen
Nick Ross Regina Pats
David Stich Saint John Sea Dogs

Trevor Cann Peterborough Petes
Linden Rowat Regina Pats
Tyson Sexsmith Vancouver Giants
Jeremy Smith Plymouth Whalers

The separation of these players into two teams is still to be determined. There are 19 players from the WHL, 11 from the QMJHL and 10 from the OHL in this years game. A few players a familar from having played in the World Junior Championships (players such as Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner) a few others are familiar because they are already well-hyped prospects (for example Angelo Esposito and Logan Couture), however for many of us it will be our first opportunity to get a look at most of these players.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

St Louis Having A Good Season

Martin St Louis won the Hart Trophy and the Stanley Cup in 2004. It was a huge successs for a player who went undrafted and struggled for many years to establish himself as an NHLer (he was 25 before he played his first complete NHL season with no trips to the minors). Then the lockout happened. St Louis lost a season of his NHL career and it took a while for him to get back on track. His 2005/06 season was a solid unspectacular year, but this was a dissapointment for the reigning NHL MVP.

This year, St Louis is back playing at all star level. He is tied for thew NHL goal lead with Marian Hossa with 26 goals. He leads the NHL's forwards in ice time per game (with 24:26 per game). St Louis is a workhorse for Tampa Bay and doing a very good job.

I believe that the lockout may have helped to prevent St Louis from a Hall of Fame career. He lost a season (and a lot of momentum) during what should have been the prime of his career. His Hall of Fame chances also suffer due to the late start of his NHL career - as it should prevent him from achieving great career totals. I think he will go down with Jeremy Roenick as a player who likely loses out on what would otherwise have been a Hall of Fame career due to the loss of opportunity in the lockout.

Martin St Louis is one of the better players in the NHL right now and is showing he his far from a one year wonder.

Friday, January 05, 2007

World Junior Hockey Championships: Medals

Today, the World Junior Hockey Championships concluded with the medal games. Look back at the preliminary round, quarterfinals and semifinals with these links.

Bronze/4th Game USA 2 Sweden 1 Jeff Frazee (New Jersey prospect) played a strong game for the Americans stopping 25 of 26 shots. USA was paced by Erik Johnson (St Louis prospect) who had the winning goal and assisted on the earlier Pat Kane (2007 draft eligible) goal. The Sweden goal was scored by Patrik Zackrisson (undrafted in the NHL - Sweden has several undrafted forwards who produced including Lukas Omark and Martin Johansson. Does this indicate some kind of failure to properly scout in Sweden?). This was a solid game where either team could have won. USA wins bronze.

Gold/Silver Game Canada 4 Russia 2 Canada jumped out to a 4-0 lead on goals by Andrew Cogliano (Edmonton prospect), Bryan Little (Atlanta prospect), Jonathan Toews (Chicago prospect) - who also added an assist and Brad Marchand (Boston prospect). Russia attempted to fight back with goals from Pavel Valentenko (Montreal prospect) and Gennadi Churilov (undrafted in the NHL - an undrafted Russian is easier to understand than an undrafted Swede due to the lack of an NHL transfer agreement with Russia). The Russians pressed hard in the third period but ran out of time. Canada wins gold and Russia silver.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I NOW Consider Mats Sundin A Hall of Famer

I keep track of players that are currently in the NHL who have had Hall of Fame careers. I like to try to pinpoint the time when thez reach a level of accomplishment where no future slump, injury, contreversy etc. can keep them from the Hall of Fame based upon their career to date (without any attempt to project into the future). The last player I thought accomplished this is Mike Modano. Here is a rough explanation of what standards I apply to these players. Today, I am adding Mats Sundin to my Hall of Fame list.

Like Mike Modano, Sindin scored his 1200th career point recently. Sundin now has 1205 career point (which ties him with Vincent Damphousse for 40th all time). In fact, he has passed Modano since Modano has suffered a groin injury. While 1200 points is impressive, it in itself is not a ticket to the Hall of Fame. I wouldn't consider Damphousse a Hall of Famer. There are two active players with more points than this in Mark Recchi and Pierre Turgeon who I do not consider Hall of Famers. It is necessary for a 1200 point player to be considered one of the better players in the game and in his position and to be extremely valuable to his team. Mats Sundin possesses these requirements. He is a two time NHL Second Team All Star (in 2002 and 2004). He has been a very valuable player internationally for Sweden. He made the Canada Cup All Star Team in 1991 and the World Cup All Star Team in 2004. He has represented Sweden in the last three Olympiads (successfully with 20 points in 16 games). Sundin has been a longtime Maple Leaf captain since 1997. He has led the Maple Leafs in scoring 10 times. He is the second highest all time scorer in Leaf history (behind Darryl Sittler). Despite having missed 7 games to injury so far this season, he leads the Maple Leafs in scoring.

Mats Sundin is a player that I consider a Hall of Famer regardless of what happens in the rest of his career. He is the fifteenth active player I consider worthy of this honor. Here is the list of such players:

Ed Belfour
Rob Blake
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Nicklas Lidstrom
Mike Modano
Scott Niedermayer
Chris Pronger
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Mats Sundin

As more hockey is played this year, it is possible this list will grow. It is possible this list of active Hall of Famers might shrink if there are retirements (Brian Leetch looks like a candidate).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

World Junior Hockey Championships: Semifinals

The semifinals were played in the World Junior Hockey Championships today. The quarterfinal results are here and the preliminary round results are here.

Canada 2 USA 1 (shootout) These teams played to a 6-3 Canada victory in the preliminary round. This game was much closer. USA took the lead on a goal by Tyler Chorney (Edmonton prospect) to put Canada behind for the first time in the tournament. Luc Bourdon (Vancouver prospect) tied the game up. It went to a shootout (which is an awful way to decide a game) and Canada won. Both goalies were strong. Carey Price (Montreal prospect) of Canada stopped 34 of 35 shots and Jeff Frazee (New Jersey prospect) stopped 26 of 27 shots (but statistics show he faced 28 shots since the shootout loss for some reason is scored as a shot on goal on the IIHF statistics.)

Russia 4 Sweden 2 Russia has not been tested yet in the tournament. This game was no different. Igor Makarov (Chicago prospect) led the way with 3 points. The Swedes were led by Nicklas Backstrom (Washington prospect) who had two assists in the losing effort.

On Friday, Canada and Russia meet in the gold-silver game and USA and Sweden meet in the bronze-4th game.

World Junior Hockey Championships: Quarterfinals

The quarterfinals in the World Junior Hockey Chamionships were played on Tuesday. Here are the earlier preliminary round results.

Sweden 5 Czech Republic 1 Jhonas Enroth (Buffalo prospect) played a strong game in goal for Sweden stopping 27 of 28 shots. Sweden's attack was led by two goals from Martin Johansson (undrafted in the NHL) and a two point game from Linus Omark (also undrafted - do these undrafted Swedes mean recent drafts have not uncovered the talent in Sweden?). The Czech goal came from Vladimir Sobotka (Boston prospect). This game was never particularly close. Sweden plays Russia in one semi-final.

USA 6 Finland 3 The Americans broke the game open in the third period (it was 3-3 at one point). The American attack was led by Erik Johnson (St Louis prospect) and Pat Kane (2007 draft eligible) who each put up 3 points and Peter Mueller (Phoenix prospect) who scored the game winner and added an assist. Finland was led by Oskar Osala (Washington prospect) who scored two goals and Mikko Lehtonen (Boston prospect) who added two assists. The Americans will play Canada in the other semi-final.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

World Junior Hockey Championships- Preliminary Round

The World Junior Hockey Championships are well underway. The round robin part of the tournament has completed. Here are its results:

Group A: Leksand,Sweden

1. Canada They have been the class of this group going undefeated and outscoring opposition by a margin of 14-4. Offensively they have been balanced and lead by Kris Russell (Columbus prospect), Steve Downie (Philadelphia prospect) and defenceman Kristopher Letang (Pittsburgh prospect). Carey Price (Montreal prospect) has offered very good goaltending.

2. Sweden The host team who was handed their only regulation loss in their opener against Canada. If they find themseleves winning big in the tournament playoffs it will likely be thanks to Patric Hornqvist (Nashville prospect) and Linus Omark (who is undrafted in the NHL).

3. USA They were handed an opening day loss to Germany and their spot in the playoffs looked quesitonable, but they battled back. They have been led by Pat Kane (2007 draft eligible), Nathan Gerbe (Buffalo prospect) and Erik Johnson (St Louis prospect).

4. Germany They shocked USA at the beginning of the tournament, but cdouldn't grab a playoff berth. They were led offensively by Felix Schutz (Buffalo prospect).

5. Slovakia They were outclassed in the tournament, losing all their games and getting outscored 19-6 in the tournament.

Group B: Mora, Sweden

1. Russia They have been the best team so fart in the tournament going undefeated and outscoring opposition 20-3. Offensively, they have been led by Alexei Cherfepanov (2007 draft eligible) and Alexander Bumagin (Edmonton prospect). Semen Varlamov (Washington prospect) has provided top goaltending.

2. Finland This has been a top heavy offensive team with Perttu Lindgren (Dallas prospect) leading the tournament in scoring so far. Mikko Lehtonen (Boston prospect) has also been scoring.

3. Czech Republic The third playoff team in this group. Vladimir Sobotka (Boston prospect) and Tomas Kana (St Louis prospect) have led the way offensively.

4. Switzerland An also ran, led offensively by Juraj Simek (Vancouver prospect).

5. Belarus Shocked Finland on opening day, but was then overmatched. Led by Sergei Kostistyn (Montreal prospect).

Today, Finland plays the US in a quartfinal and Sweden plays the Czech Republic in the other. The winners meet Canada and Russia respectively tomorrow, with the medal games on Friday.

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